Mayor James Fiorentini made the right call, but for the wrong reason, when he withdrew his plan to enforce a city ordinance requiring contractors hired for city projects to make sure at least 30 percent of their work force had Haverhill addresses.
Fiorentini said he was backing off because the ordinance may be unconstitutional.
We don't know whether the residency law is illegal or unconstitutional; courts have split on the issue.
But we are certain it is just plain dumb.
Cities and towns with good economies never fall for such rubbish. Losers do.
Take Fall River, for example.
The hard-pressed city in Southeastern Massachusetts adopted what it called Responsible Employer Ordinances that mandated, among other things, that 100 percent of apprentices and 50 percent of other employees on publicly bid jobs be Fall River residents. A group of contractors sued, and in October, a U.S. District Court judge tossed out the ordinances as unconstitutional and hit Fall River with a $150,000 bill for the plaintiffs' legal costs.
Ironically, Fall River had already stopped trying to enforce the mandates.
These kind of ordinances always crop up in times of economic trouble. They are a cheap way for politicians to hold out the hope of a decent job to their constituents.
Then, when the economy improves, the rules are forgotten or go unenforced.
That's the case with Haverhill's rule. The ordinance dates back to 1991, after another real estate bubble burst, plunging us into tough times. Bill Clinton was elected president the following year, when his campaign's mantra was "It's the economy, stupid."
Fiorentini dusted off the old ordinance in September 2010 as the U.S. economy continued to founder. The mayor created what he grandly called the Haverhill Residents Construction Employment Monitoring Committee to enforce it.
The Soviet-style name of the committee gives the game away.
The command-and-control economic model can no more work at the local level that it can on a national scale, as the defunct Soviet Union, Cuba and North Korea, among other nations, have demonstrated.
If Fiorentini could manipulate the job market to benefit residents of this city, so could every other mayor. And for every worker hired for a job by virtue of a Haverhill address, another Haverhill resident would lose a job for lack of an address in Lawrence, Lowell or Lynn.
The ruling on the Fall River ordinances led Haverhill City Solicitor William Cox to tell Fiorentini to drop his scheme. (See story, Page 1.)
"I don't see (the ordinance) defensible based on this," Cox said, adding that he will ask the City Council to kill the ordinance.
It would be smart to drive a stake through it lest some future mayor make the same foolish calculation that Fiorentini did.
"I should have done the research," the mayor conceded.
Honestly, it shouldn't have required any research, just a moment of thought about basic economic principles.